Breen, Sims set to lead UMass women’s basketball

  • UMass senior forward Sam Breen posts up against Danielle Sanderlin during preseason practice. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Maddie Sims, a graduate student, posts up against Makennah White during preseason practice. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Maddie Sims, left, stands with senior forward Sam Breen during preseason practice. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass senior forward Sam Breen looks to shoot during preseason practice. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Maddie Sims, a graduate student, is shown during preseason practice. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Maddie Sims, a graduate student, attempts a layup while Angelique Ngalakulondi watches during preseason practice. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Sports Editor
Published: 11/27/2020 5:48:34 PM

The UMass women’s basketball team had arguably the best scout team post players in the country to start last season.

Sam Breen, a 6-foot-1 forward, was sitting out the first semester after transferring from Penn State. Maddie Sims, a 6-foot-2 forward from Siena, was sitting out the year after switching schools.

Breen joined the lineup in late December and played her way on to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team.

Both players are in the lineup now as the Minutewomen start the 2020-2021 season. In UMass’ 82-54 season-opening victory over Bryant in Smithfield, Rhode Island, on Wednesday, the pair combined for 31 points and 19 rebounds.

“Utilizing those guys both inside and out, we’re going to try and take advantage of their skill sets,” UMass coach Tory Verdi said. “We can post up either one and then they are going to have those opportunities to go one on one, whether it’s at the high post or on the block.”

Sims said she enjoyed being a part of last season’s team, which finished 20-11 following a 13-point loss to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals. She’s even more excited to be playing this season.

“It’s been great,” Sims said. “Everybody has been helping me get back on the court and play a more pivotal role this year instead of being a practice player and cheerleader on the sidelines. It was fun and all but I’m happy to be back on the court.”

Breen was happy to have her on the floor.

“I am so beyond excited to finally be able to play with Maddie in an actual game,” she said. “We were on scout team together last year for a semester and I think we play really well together. We compliment each other super well whether she is in high post, low post. I think we find each other extremely well.”

Their absence at the start of the season allowed 6-5 center Maeve Donnelly to thrive as a freshman. Donnelly started all 31 games and averaged 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. She missed the opener against Bryant due to being in concussion protocol. When she returns UMass will be at full strength in the post.

“We’re ready to show what we got this year and I think people are going to be surprised,” Sims said.

The biggest loss from last season was the graduation of Hailey Leidel. The program’s second all-time leading scorer (1,841 points) is the all-time leader in games played, games started, minutes and 3-pointers made. (Leidel signed a pro contract with Sparta Bartreng of the Total League in Luxembourg.)

Verdi recruited Sydney Taylor to be Leidel’s replacement. Taylor, who averaged about 6 minutes a game last season, started against Bryant and led the Minutewomen with 24 points on five 3-pointers.

“She has put in a lot of time on her game,” Verdi said. “She’s got some big shoes to fill. She is going to fill Hailey Leidel’s shoes, but I think she’s up for that challenge.”

Taylor said her confidence and consistency are different this season.

“I know last year I had a lot of ups and downs, playing not so hard on this possession and hard the next possession,” Taylor said. “Coming into these games this year I had to give my all on every possession, up and down the floor.”

The Minutewomen only have 10 players this season.

Junior guard Destiney Philoxy returns. She started and had eight points, eight assists and three steals in the opener.

Junior guard Madison Lowery showed her touch off the bench Wednesday, going 3-for-3 from deep against the Bulldogs.

Freshman point guard Ber’Nyah Mayo earned her first start and finished with six points, six steals and six assists.

Freshman Makennah White, a 6-2 forward, saw 18 minutes off the bench against Bryant. Sophomore forward Angelique Ngalakulondi brings additional size off the bench at 6-2. She played 10 minutes in the opener.

Redshirt junior guard Desiree Oliver, who missed last season after transferring from Temple, did not play against the Bulldogs.

UMass is scheduled to play at Boston College at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The team has several more nonconference games before it opens Atlantic 10 play with Rhode Island at the Mullins Center on Dec. 28.

Of course, the schedule is subject to change due to the pandemic.

“We’re trying to keep things positive, keep things fun. We don’t want to make any excuses during, throughout this pandemic,” Verdi said. “Our approach is to win the day. Regardless if it’s just a practice or just a game, we want to win the day. You can’t look down the road, you can’t look at what’s going to happen this week. You have no idea if we’ll get there.”

The players have heeded his advice.

“You can’t predict the future,” Sims said. “We’ve learned that throughout COVID. We’re just going like every practice, every game could be our last. You never know when the season could come to an end.”

ROSTER NOTES — Danielle Sanderlin, a 6-foot forward, is sitting out the year after transferring from Canisius. Jessica Nelson (injury) is no longer on the roster but is active with the program.

UMass lost several players from last season who opted to transfer. Bre Hampton-Bey (Loyola) and Paige McCormick (Roberts Wesleyan) would have been seniors. Grace Heeps (Albany) moved on after one season.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.


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